James McAvoy in "Trance."
Fox Searchlight James McAvoy in "Trance."
Your earlier films were criticized for borrowing the language of MTV music videos. But since then you've made it your own -- inherited the tradition that inspired you, if you will.

I remember the freshness of it at the time, of pop videos. They were hit and miss, of course, but there was something exhilarating about that connection of visuals and music. And it's a modern phenomenon that we should be proud of because, you know, there's classical cinema where there are scores and it has a certain pace about it and the narrative goes in a certain way. And then there are more modern phenomena, which I think began with "Apocalypse Now," where you take music that exists, has its own complete cultural identity and you make it connect with a different identity, which is your visual story. It also draws from opera  -- and then it brings in this psychedelic kind of sixties mentality.

I think you may need to draw a whole chart explaining that breakdown.

It's modern storytelling and it will evolve in so many different ways. People re-record songs by someone else, or they do a stripped down version. It's a lovely part of our culture and it's great. I mean, people walk around with music in their heads anyway -- and now they do it literally -- but people have always walked around with music in their heads and one of the great things about pop music is that it's a refresher. It's constantly reinventing itself and it's built into the process that it reinvents itself. I love that.

In the case of "Trance," how did you map out the film's flow? Do you have an idea of the rhythm you want to follow while you shoot it or do you figure it out in post?

It's true what they say, that all films are made in the editing room. It doesn't matter what they tell you about cinematography, or actors, or that magic moment on set. Believe me, because after that magic moment on set, when you're in the editing room two months later, you think, "Why did we think that was magic? The other take is so much better!" It’s just bizarre. So these things are made in the editing room. Obviously there are certain plans and ideas you try to execute and some you do successfully and some not so successfully. But it's in editing that you start to map out the rhythm of the film properly and how you're going to experience it.

In this particular case you also had to figure out a strategy for drawing viewers into this world in which hypnosis has such a dramatic effect on the plot and make them believe it.

Rosario Dawson in 'Trance'
Rosario Dawson in 'Trance'

That's certainly true. Obviously, we've got plausibility issues. Could you drive a hole in the plausibility of it? Well, you can, but actually what we found out is that the stuff that goes on in the movie is actually ethically dubious, but clinically possible. And that’s really scary. Whether the characters would go to these lengths -- you could always argue that. But can hypnosis do what it does in the film? Clinically, yes it can. Not to many people, just this 5-10% group. But there are people who want it to happen to them, and it may not be good for them because that's the fucked up nature of our desire sometimes, but it can work like that. The hypnotist profession is trying to rebuild itself since the seventies when it was discredited. But it was discredited because it was beginning to be used as legally admissible evidence. And it was discredited because they were planting memories. Therapists were planting memories unaware, deliberately unaware sometimes, and this was discovered under the eye of the law so they got discredited. And they've been trying to rebuild the profession with this idea that you will never do what you don't want to do, and you will always be awake and aware. That's true of 70% of the population. You will never go fully under. You could still benefit in a meditative kind of way, but there are some people that will be fully traumatized, fully under the dramatic effect.

After that magic moment on set, when you're in the editing room two months later, you think, 'Why did we think that was magic? The other take is so much better!'"
It's too bad you can't hypnotize people into making them see your movie.

(laughs) Just press here and you'd discover two days later that your credit card was charged $30 and all you'd want to do is see it again, because you couldn't remember it!

You have a very comfortable relationship with Fox Searchlight. On the SXSW panel, you made it clear that they've given you plenty of room to mess around. Are there projects that you want to do that will require you to work with other studios?

You should never exclude anything. But I shouldn't have said "mess around," that was wrong of me to say.

I think what you actually said was that they let you "fuck with genre."

You can take more extreme risks within a relationship like that, and it's a good, solid relationship when you know that you can do something like that. And you also know that you're not just pissing people's money away on a wild idea. You're just stretching an idea as far as you can. So it's very healthy. I wouldn't exclude doing anything. It may well be that some ideas come up that you think you should be made for a lot less money or for no money at all. And then there are other ideas that may prove to be much more expensive. For instance, if we decide to do a period movie, that would exceed our cap at the moment.

What is your cap?

It's $20 million, which is a lot of money. But I think a period movie, especially one of any scale, would have to exceed that. Which means you would have to move into a different area. You'd have to go to big Fox. But that's very good for us. They've got a great little track record with us.